Friday, October 22, 2010

The American Bar Association and DNA electronic data files

Part 24 in the Knox/Sollecito case

It is sometimes claimed that the defense teams of Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito failed to show up for the DNA forensic testing in this case. Therefore, they do not know what went on and do not have cause to complain about the testing methods or lack of disclosure. This argument is false on a number of fronts. Ms. Knox’s stepfather Chris Mellas said that the defense was given only a few hours of notification, yet Rome is a considerable drive from Perugia (in addition to the defense having other responsibilities). This argument also ignores the fact that several of the experts from the defense only came aboard long after the testing was over. It is absurd to contend that they should be denied free access to the data. However, another problem with this argument is that it assumes that observing the testing is really that critical in the first place.

I posed the question of whether it would be more useful to observe the testing or to have the electronic data files to Professor Dan Krane, one of the cosigners of the open letter on the DNA forensics of this case. He responded:

“Having the electronic data for review is enormously important. Having the opportunity to witness the testing of samples is of marginal utility at best. Reviews of the underlying data for DNA tests often reveals alternative interpretations of the evidence samples, especially in circumstances were small amounts of DNA are involved and it is difficult to distinguish between signal, noise, and technical artifacts. Observing testing rarely provides any more insights than what should be possible from a review of contemporaneous notes that should be part of a lab's case file. Witnessing testing is far from a cure-all. Problems such as contamination of samples can easily arise before a sample arrives in a laboratory yet could not be detected by an expert observing the testing process itself.”

The subject of the electronic data files has been a major theme of this blog’s coverage of the Knox/Sollecito case. Every expert whom I have contacted has spoken in support of full release, and some private DNA forensic companies even have a standard form for the defense to fill out to obtain them. Another benefit of full release of all case files is that serious clerical errors are occasionally found and corrected.

In addition to forensic experts, legal experts within the United States support complete disclosure of all pertinent information, including but not limited to the electronic data files. Nothing close to full disclosure happened in this case. Bob Graham wrote, “It has also emerged that the prosecution has failed to deliver to the defence all the paperwork and documentation related to the forensic testing.” He reported on the prosecution’s response: “Deputy prosecutor Manuela Comodi brushed off the request for all forensic documentation and added: ‘They have everything they need. That is enough.’”

The American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section Standards on DNA evidence discusses disclosure in section 4.1:
(a) The prosecutor should be required, within a specified and reasonable time prior to trial, to make available to the defense the following information and material relating to DNA evidence:
(iii) the laboratory case file and case notes;
(iv) a curriculum vitae for each testifying expert and for each person involved in the testing;
(viii) all raw electronic data produced during testing;
(ix) reports of laboratory contamination and other laboratory problems affecting testing procedures or results relevant to the evaluation of the procedures and test results obtained in the case and corrective actions taken in response; and

Obviously the Italian courts are not bound by the ABA’s guidelines. However, the ABA guidelines are additional documentation, as if any were required, that release of the electronic data files is a near-universal norm in most nations. Ms. Comodi indicating that she has the right to decide what documentation is enough is remarkable given the unanimity of opinion on the usefulness of full disclosure among DNA forensic experts.


Rose said...

Thanks Chris.

Yet the court seems to feel everything is fine, no problem. At this point it is not the prosecution's tactics of discovery delay and withholding that are a concern but rather the courts acceptance of it as a matter of course.

If the appeal court fails in this regard as well, the only conclusion I can see is that there are some serious issues with the justice system in Italy.

Chris Halkides said...


I agree. It is disturbing that Massei did not demand full release of all information. I am concerned that we won't see it at the appeals stage, either.


Anonymous said...

I am so concerned about this case. Thank you so much, Chris, for continuing to post about these egregious lapses in the justice system.


Anonymous said...


As usual, I am confused as to what was requested, what was ordered, and what has been or not been given with reference to the release of all information to the defense. It is quite possible that what I am posting here has nothing to do with your blog post (that wouldn't be the first time I have done this).

From the motivations, page 245:

The Public Prosecutor pointed out that all the tests had been carried out under Article 360 of the Criminal Procedure Code and a lawyer or a consultant for the
defence was always present at every stage of these tests and no objection and/or request had been put forward in those stages. The quantification was also performed
during these activities carried out in the laboratory. The Defence emphasised their demand to have it made available ("we want it, we want it", page 108) and requested
that the proceedings should be suspended immediately in order to acquire the necessary [information], otherwise reserving the plea of invalidity because the
proceedings whose existence they had been informed of today had not been deposited in the prescribed manner‛ (page 110). Amanda Knox’s defence also insisted that the documentation should be acquired, with a reservation to also review the conclusions of their own consultants (page 111). The Public Prosecutor declared that he did not oppose the defences’ requests, but specified that it was not a case of documents, but of data that normally are not recorded in the report.

The Court ordered the suspension and acquisition, setting a reasonable time limit, both for lodging [the document] and for continuing with Professor Tagliabracci’s testimony.

Page 255:

Dr. Sarah Gino was heard at the hearing of September 26, 2009 on the subject of the documentation deposited following the relevant orders made by this Court, which
have already been mentioned; with respect to this document, Amanda Knox's defence produced a memorandum statement dated September 25, 2009 from Dr. Sarah Gino.

post continued

Anonymous said...


Sorry, for some reason when I was posting last night I thought my continued post did show when published and added to the first post but it is not so now.

My second post included some observations and questions and at the moment I cannot recall them all. I will think on this and see if I can remember what I included in the second post.


Chris Halkides said...


It will take some time to give your interesting set of questions a proper answer.

Anonymous said...


Do you have the questions I asked in my continuation last night?

I was in the process of re-writing (actually most of it is written), but will stop and not re-post if you have the questions.


Chris Halkides said...


I am going to post the rest of your comment below. If it is not correct, let me know, and I will try to fix it.



Some observations:

*I do not know the date of the Court order to turn over documentation and when that data was turned over but I suspsect it might have been in July 2009 during Tagliabracci's first testimony which resumed in September. That seems to be a long time span so I am not sure.

*There were also Court ordered documents given to Gino.

*It is stated that the defense had a lawyer or consultant for all stages of testing. (Do you read this as all DNA testing of all items or only certain items tested and all stages of testing for those certain items?)

*The prosecutor did not oppose the defense's requests, but specified that it was not a case of documents, but of data that normally are not recorded in the report.

*Documents were delivered but the defense experts were not satisfied with the information contained in the documents, claimed it was incomplete, missing, etc.

Do you know what the defense is asking for specifically as to missing documents and do you know what is meant by the prosecution saying it is data that is not normally included in a report?


Anonymous said...

Chris that looks correct. I may have more to add but it would not be much.

For a time I thought my writing was invisible like a ghost.

I am not trying to be argumentative in my posts. I am only trying to know what is and is not true. There is so much information floating around, much of it in conflict. I tend to question all information as to its veracity, not just the information which may or may not fall in line with my thoughts.

I am of the mind that people don't have to be evil, incompetent, conspiratorial, etc. for this to be a wrong or right verdict of Amanda and Raffaele.


Bob said...

Christiana posted: "I am of the mind that people don't have to be evil, incompetent, conspiratorial, etc. for this to be a wrong or right verdict of Amanda and Raffaele."

One would certainly like to think that your statement is true, but too many incidents/peculiarities point to an evil and conspiratorial attempt to find Amanda/Raffaele guilty. A few points illustrate this:

1) Prosecutor Mignini prosecuted this case in spite of being on trial for abuse of office

2) A substance under the victim’s fingernails has not been tested

3) The court refused to test a possible semen stain on a pillow case

4) Dr. Stefanoni stated varying sample sizes for the knife/bra clasp at different stages of the prosecution

5) Dr. Stefanoni stated that the luminol revealed footprints weren’t tested for blood. When forced to produce withheld information 6 months into the trial, it was learned that Dr. Stefanoni had lied because the footprints had been tested and the results showed that the footprints were void of blood.

6) Dr. Stefanoni is still withholding testing information--electronic data files (.fsa files), the instrument log files, and (if they exist) the contamination log files.

7) The prosecution’s footprint expert assigned the bathmat footprint to Raffaele. However the expert’s analysis used incorrect measurements.

8) Amanda’s statements which the Italian Supreme Court ruled to be inadmissible in the trial of first instance were brought into the trial via the Lumumba slander

9) The court refused to make arrangements with the Rome testing lab in order to allow for observation by the defense

10) The court refused to order independent testing of contested DNA results

11) Judge Massei wrote that Amanda was carrying the long kitchen knife in her purse for ‘protection’

12) The Court bought into an 11:30 time of death which was much later than what the coroner (Dr. Lalli) and other experts had agreed upon

13) A broken down car which required tow truck assistance was in the drive way of the house from 10:30 to 11:40. The occupants of the car saw and heard nothing. Apparently the court ignored this testimony.

14) The knife is ‘junk’ science which wouldn’t be allowed into any other court in the world

15) The bra clasp was collected from the crime scene 47 days after the other collections were made. Evidence was needed in order to continue the prosecution of Raffaele after his sister proved that a bloody shoe print at the crime scene was Guede’s and not Raffaele’s. The collection was a theatrical affair with the camera actually exposing soiled gloves worn by the collectors.

16) The court chose to believe Quintavalle’s testimony instead of Inspector Volturno, two employees of Quintavalle (including M. Chiriboga), and Amanda Knox.

Anonymous said...

I know this is off topic but
it seems to me there is reason to believe that Rudi
is being protected in all of
this. The prosecutor did not appeal his sentence like they did for AK. This is one
of many examples. Has anybody researched the status of Rudi's ex benefactor in Perugia. I understand this wealthy gentleman claims to have cut
ties but actions are different than words

Debrah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debrah said...

Another Knox update this morning with slides.

Knox makes emotional address in Italy appeal from the Washington Post.

Chris Halkides said...


Amanda is looking worn down from her three years in custody. However, she is looking a little bit better than last month. I am hopeful that this appeal will succeed and she will return to full health soon. Raffaele looks a little better, but I have to believe that there are some effects on him as well.

Geraldo will host some of the primary pro-Knox/Sollecito writers/bloggers/spokesmen tonight some time after 10 PM on FOX.


Chris Halkides said...

To all,

It is worth listening to Amanda in her own words, though she is speaking in Italian.


Kaosium said...

"A victory for the defense? No, it's a victory for the truth" said attorney Francesco Maresca, who represents the family of Meredith Kercher as civil party, commenting on the decision of the Court..."

When the jackal is smirking I tend to get nervous. I got to thinking, what will they actually be reviewing here, and what are the possible outcomes? For example, as I understand it the trace of Meredith's DNA on the knife [i]can't[/i] be re-tested, thus what can Carla Vecchiotti actually decide to benefit Amanda and Raffele? Perhaps the count was too low to test originally at all, but will that really be in her purview? Or maybe she can demand the EDF files, but what if they're inconclusive, is that a possibility? Would she overturn a colleague on the basis of anything but absolute proof?

As for the clasp, that had a larger sample and can be retested if I understand this right, but what if it shows up with Raffaele's DNA and how could she possibly 'prove' contamination? Will she overturn a court's decision if she can't?

What if because of reasons like the above or others the court ends up confirming the DNA evidence?

Chris Halkides said...


I share your concerns. We do not know much about the credentials of the two experts appointed by the court. I have heard nothing that makes me certain that the electronic data files will be released. One wonders whether the experts appointed by the court have the power to decide that Dr. Stefanoni's methodology was untested, therefore not suitable to be used.

Kaosium said...

“If possible, the tests must be redone,” Judge Claudio Pratillo Helmen told the court. “If they can’t be re-tested, then the procedures must be closely examined.”

Well, here's some positive news on the subject, with Barbie's reputation as a meticulous fact-checker I'm sure we can take it to the bank. Though it isn't particularly encouraging she spelled his name wrong, although considering the trouble that's caused me lately I could hardly protest overmuch about that.

At any rate it's a quote, and one which seems to suggest the procedures are of importance to Judge Hellmann and he'd be willing to consider the relevance of the DNA on that basis. I can't help but think that's very important in the case of the knife. Perhaps I misunderstand this, but having followed the links on this article I get the impression that without those EDF files basically the only 'proof' we have that Meredith's DNA was ever on that blade is the word of Dr. Stefanoni?

Regarding procedures and the bra-clasp, wouldn't the fact it mysteriously migrated in the 46 days between when it was first seen during the initial sweep and when it was collected be of concern? Could that also be a 'procedure' he'd be interested in considering? Were there any laboratory procedures relevant to the bra-clasp that could be questioned? I believe I've read you noted that that sample could also be considered LCN DNA, that would then be revealed with the release of the EDF data?

It sounds to me that unless those files are released both should be thrown out on the basis of procedure, and if they aren't somebody needs to be spanked.

Chris Halkides said...


I don’t seriously doubt that Meredith’s DNA is responsible for the peaks that we see in the electropherogram. There are two issues, though, that are far less clear. One is when did the DNA get there, and I think that contamination in the lab is a very real possibility. Cotamination prior to the knife’s arrival in the lab and secondary transfer are two others.

Two is what should constitute the legal requirements for a profile to count in a legal arena. Here one could argue that Meredith’s DNA is not present, legally. The peaks are smaller than the usual minimum, but setting the peak size thresholds before starting the experiment minimizes the chances of bias. In addition, it is generally accepted that low template DNA work should be done in duplicate, as an absolute minimum, to account for alleles dropping in and out. You can see evidence of both drop-in and drop-out in the profile. Dr. Stefanoni’s version of low template DNA forensics is undocumented at best, and it is most likely inferior to standard LCN forensics.

With respect to the movement of the clasp, I personally would toss the evidence on this basis alone, inasmuch as no one has ever satisfactorily accounted for it. In addition, video recording of the collection of this evidence showed that the handling of the clasp was at variance with generally accepted principles. I would toss the evidence on these grounds as well. If one does not, then one is providing the forensic technicians with no incentive to do the job correctly.